The world of music has Beethoven to thank for an entire range of accomplishments, including the emancipation of the cello as an independent partner in compositions written for cello and piano. Twelve cello sonatas and a number of variations emerged over the span of his productive period, bearing impressive witness to a new and revolutionary creative direction, something that the great master implemented to absolute perfection, and something that has proven mesmerizing over the past sixty years in interpretations by a number of artists on CD and LP – from the old masters Casals / Serkin, Fournier / Kempf, Rostropivich /Kempf, the then young Du Pré / Barenboim, to the most upstanding artists of today such as Maisky / Argerich, just to name a few. Then there are the current younger stars like Jean-Guihen Queyras and Alexander Melnikov, to whom we’re indebted for this most recent recording, available as a high-resolution download. The buying decision for a prospective purchaser, in a market saturated with dozens of good and very good recordings, is already difficult. So why another recording? In short, because what we have here is a new recording, released in the cutting edge, technically advanced high-resolution format for download—a recording that speaks to us from the standpoint of superior sound quality.
For the gourmet devoted to sound, this in and of itself is incentive enough to buy it, especially since the download is sonically stunning, with a clear edge over the CD version. But this new cello / piano album also reveals an artist duo that has something to say that we’ve never heard from their predecessors. While there are recordings by artists who feel connected to the historical performance practices, we don’t usually see it from the young generation of forty-somethings, who as it turns out, may have been spoon-fed historical performance practices at an early age; but then transferred their experiences in the world of music ultimately into playing with modern instruments.
How does this renewed awareness manifest itself in the approach taken here by Messrs. Queyras and Melnikov, in this new Harmonia Mundi release of the complete Beethoven works for cello and piano? First, through the restrained use of vibrato by Jean-Guihen Queyras. Then by a very lean and brilliant cello sound that clearly differentiates itself from the rather pasty and perpetually rich sound of the old cello masters, and which once you’ve heard it, seems to make everything else appear overly ‘fat’ in comparison. Beethoven’s cello voice is delightfully well-balanced in the sonatas and variations, and since this transparency is reflected in Alexander Melnikov’s piano, we hear Beethoven in a completely new light – and free of pathos.
This new recording also speaks to the extraordinary virtuosity of both musicians, who with an unbridled joy in playing seem to create magic with the variations, and cause you to hold your breath with the sonatas; they lead you through the shallow depths of Beethoven’s compositional excesses, not letting you out of their grip for a second. In short, we’re dealing with a great moment in Beethoven interpretation.
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The available technical spectrum is fully utilized.